Over at the mothership this week, I made a plea for the Reds to bring up at least a couple of the prospects who are making waves at Triple-A early this season. Specifically, I wrote about Matt McLain, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Elly De La Cruz.* You could probably throw Andrew Abbott into that mix too, but it’s a lot easier to make the case for the Reds to call up a first baseman or a shortstop than a pitcher right now. Well, it’s a little easier anyway.
*I also called Elly “a comic book superhero” of a prospect. That’s a moniker I dropped years ago on one of my all-time favorite Reds, Billy Hamilton. Here’s hoping that Elly has a better big league career than Hamilton. And based upon his performance last night, I’m optimistic.
As I wrote this week’s column, I anticipated that I would get a certain response — What about service time?!? It’s the same response I get every time I tweet about calling up the prospects to the big leagues. In fact, I wrote a couple of paragraphs about this particular topic, trying to ward off the discussion, but the piece was already getting a little long, so I deleted it. Then, like clockwork, my intrepid editor at the Magazine emailed me this morning to alert me that the very first comment on the column was about service time issues.
So then I did something I never do. I waded into the comments. I have a strict policy never to read the comments but today, in service to you, the devoted reader, I broke my policy and dove in. Here’s the comment in question, from “Chad R Worz”:
“No mention of player control in this article. While bringing them up satisfies the rabble short term, is it wise for the organization long term? What are the challenges or the dates where it makes sense to pull them up? I’ve seen nothing on this aspect.”
A couple of things first. Is “Chad R Worz” a real person? Or did he choose that pseudonym as a sorta caveman way of saying that I’m the worst? CHAD ARE WORST! ALL CHAD ARE WORST, IT TRUE!* I mean, if so, he’s not wrong. I’m pretty much the worst. Many of you have known that for years.
*I’m really sorry. You don’t pay for this nonsense in your inbox, and you have my sincerest apologies. Please don’t unsubscribe.
Next, is Other Chad calling me one of “the rabble” since I made the case for bringing these players up to the big leagues? How dare you, good sir! If anyone knows Other Chad, please alert him to this newsletter so he can make a point of not subscribing.
Dumb jokes aside, this question is not quite what I expected. The response I usually get on Twitter is generally more sarcastic. Something in the vein of: I bet the Reds aren’t calling up McLain because they’re playing service time games, hardy har har. Other Chad’s comment was actually in earnest, and seeking to initiate a discussion. Now that’s something you don’t see in the comments very often on the interwebs. For that, I tip my cap.
Also surprising is that Other Chad’s question also explicitly takes the position that the Reds should be playing service time games with these kids, presumably because it will save Bob Castellini a few shillings in a few years. I don’t share that sentiment, but you can decide for yourselves what approach the Reds should take. My personal opinion is that the Reds should pretty much always have the 26 best players in the organization on the big league roster because it helps the team, you know, win games. Novel concept.
Anyway, the reason I tried to ward off the discussion of service time games in my column is because (a) it’s boring*, and (b) there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Reds are trying to manipulate service time with any of these players. Seriously, I don’t believe it’s happening.
*Discussions about contracts and money and collective bargaining agreements and service time bore me to tears. I like talking about the game. The game, Ray.
First, let’s get on the same page for those of you in Middletown who don’t know what I’m talking about. From the always reliable Wikipedia, we have this definition of service time manipulation:
In Major League Baseball (MLB), service time manipulation refers to tactics that baseball team executives employ to prevent players from becoming eligible for free agency and salary arbitration. It typically takes the form of demoting a player from the major league to the minor leagues for 16 days or more for reasons unrelated to their performance.
Many of you remember when the Cubs pulled this nonsense with Kris Bryant. Those of us who lived through the Nick Senzel saga back in 2019 may find it hard to believe that the Reds aren’t doing it again. There is no doubt in my mind that the club made the decision to keep Senzel in the minors at the beginning of that season in order to game the system and get another year of team control in the future. You’ll never convince me otherwise.
(For what it’s worth, the service time playing field has changed since the last collective bargaining agreement. Here’s a good primer if you’re interested.)
But what have we seen from this organization since the Senzel controversy? They didn’t play service time games with Jonathan India, instead choosing to install him at second base on Opening Day. They didn’t do it with Hunter Greene or Nick Lodolo or Jose Barrero or Tyler Stephenson. By all accounts, those players were brought up when they were ready to contribute (or in the case of Barrero, probably before he was actually ready).
I guess it’s possible that the Reds are delaying the arrival of the prospects in order to save a few dollars. But isn’t it a more likely explanation that the Reds don’t think they’re ready? As I noted in my column, all have things they really need to work on at Triple-A. None are finished products.
One last thing: what about Other Chad’s question? What are the challenges or the dates where it makes sense to pull them up? I’m not sure what “challenges” means in this context, but the date to keep the players from accumulating a full year of service time has long passed. Then there’s the “Super 2” date. If a player get the Super 2 designation*, they are eligible for arbitration earlier than mere mortals.
*To qualify for the Super Two designation, players must rank in the top 22 percent, in terms of service time, among those who have amassed between two and three years in the Majors. The specific cutoff date varies on a year-to-year basis.
On this point, I’m just going to quote C. Trent Rosecrans, because he recently wrote about this and because he did a good job with it. It’s over at The Athletic which, yes, requires a subscription. It’s worth a few bucks to subscribe, in my opinion, and I encourage you to go over and read the entire thing. Anyway:
The one criticism levied at the Reds that holds little water is that they’re holding the players down for economic reasons. The time that would keep a player from accumulating enough service time for an extra year of control has passed, and as for Super 2 arbitration status that allows an extra year of arbitration, that is a moving target. Super Two gets expensive if the player is a star early, something the Reds would be happy to see. The Reds simply aren’t holding players down.
What they are doing is trying to make sure the team is at its best not in 2023 — which is frustrating for fans paying to watch games in 2023 — but to be good as long as possible, to sustain success.
I think that’s right. And yet I still think the Reds should call up at least two of these kids. Until Joey Votto returns, it’s a great opportunity to let Encarnacion-Strand get his feet wet. And given that the Reds have gotten worse production at shortstop than any team other than Oakland, why not see if McLain can handle the position, at least until Elly is ready?
Now’s the time, I say.
This week at Cincinnati Magazine: The Reds need to bring up the kids!
The Great Cincinnati Roller Coaster Ride of 2023 continues! The Reds lost six games in a row in mid-April, then followed it up with an incredibly fun five-game winning streak. That streak ended in Oakland, and the ol’ Redlegs have lost five of seven since. They remain in fourth place, but still 3.5 games ahead of last place St. Louis. (That’s all that matters, if we’re being honest.)
Perhaps the biggest reason the Reds are six games under .500 is the dismal state of the offense. It was most evident during that recent six-game losing streak, when the Reds scored a total of six runs during the entire span. But it’s been a problem all season long, with the Reds among the worst in the majors in runs scored and runs per game.
The nerd stats paint a pretty bleak picture too. By OPS+, Cincinnati’s offense is the worst in the National League and second-worst in MLB. If you sort by wRC+, only the Colorado Rockies have a worse offense. We can slice the numbers a million different ways, but the stats all agree: The Reds are struggling at the plate.
If you watch this team every day, you know there’s plenty of blame to go around. The Reds have gotten above-average offensive production at only three spots so far this season: second base (Jonathan India), left field (Stuart Fairchild/Jake Fraley/TJ Friedl), and center field (Friedl/Nick Senzel). At every other position, including designated hitter, Cincinnati’s production has been dismal. Read the rest of this week’s Reds column over at Cincinnati Magazine.
What’s Chad Watching?
Okay, so it looks like I watched a lot of movies this week. And I did. But not as many as it appears from the image above. First of all, “The Cook” is a 20-minute silent film starring Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton. Three of these are comedy specials; all three were very funny, particularly John Mulaney’s new one.
So that means I saw four new movies this week, two in theaters. The first of those was Ari Aster’s new film “Beau Is Afraid,” starring Joaquin Phoenix. I do love the fact that Aster is willing to go for it in his movies. Sometimes he can land the plane (as in “Midsommar”) and sometimes he’s going to crash, I guess. “Beau Is Afraid” is simply dreadful, so bad in fact that I considered walking out of the theater a number of times. And I have literally never walked out of a movie. But no, instead I wasted three hours of my life that I will never get back.
The other movie I saw in a theater was a very pleasant surprise: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” The first Guardians movie was delightful, the second one less so. Given the letdown of Vol. 2, I wasn’t particularly excited for this one. And it was really good! I recommend it highly. So does my son, who told me the following day that he’s decided it’s one of the three best Marvel movies ever. So there’s that.
“Thirteen Lives” is directed by Ron Howard and stars Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, and Joel Edgerton. It’s a dramatization of the Thai youth soccer team that was trapped in a cave after an unexpected rainstorm. Very well-done and it maintains the suspense throughout, even if you know how it ends. (By the way, the documentary about this story “The Rescue” is excellent, as well.)
Finally, “Gaslight.” If you ever wanted to know where the term comes from, here you go. Ingrid Bergman is excellent as a newlywed who fears she’s going mad, and director George Cukor (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, and many more) is reliably good, as always.
Thanks for reading The Riverfront by Chad Dotson! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Yeah, I think this is the Reds being overly cautious rather than "playing games." And I think it's a big mistake. McLain should definitely be up now. Ditto Encarnacion-Strand. And hey, what about T.J. Hopkins? Dude is 26. The future is now.